We are about halfway through football season and Rutgers fans have that familiar feeling. The feeling a guy gets when he is low on water and finds himself only half way through a desert.
If your a Rutgers fan you know that feeling well.
It is generally about this time of year that fans start looking towards basketball season.
After all, you have to look ahead towards something, don't you?
But we are kidding ourselves, right? The endless succession of football seasons and basketball seasons, raising hopes only to have them shattered. The endless circle of hope and misery, of expectation and disappointment, of enthusiasm and disenchantment.
When will Rutgers fans ever learn? When will Rutgers fans wise up?
Maybe we don't have to wise up this time. Maybe something is really happening at Rutgers.
When you look at a basketball program on the rise, there is always a landmark recruit. You know, the guys that people point to and say, he started it all when he went there. At Georgetown it was Pat Ewing. At Seton Hall it was Mark Bryant. At most schools there is that one guy. At Rutgers it was Phil Sellers in the 1970's and today its Shagari Alleyne. That is not to say that Cortez Davis, Cal Wooten, Marquis Webb or Quincy Douby aren't BIG TIME guys because they are.
They didn't come from a fabled program like Rice High School in Manhattan. They aren't seven feet tall. Rutgers wasn't involved in a recruiting battle with Kentucky with any of the other players. Yes, Woo select Rutgers over Oklahoma and Cortez picked Rutgers over a group of top ranked schools but Kentucky wanted Shagari, badly, real badly and he chose Rutgers.
One thing for certain you can teach basketball to a player but you can't teach height. Shagari is big, like 7'2' and his wing span is almost 10 feet. Put him in the lane and he is the lane. His physical presence non withstanding he is big in terms of what he means in the New York/New Jersey basketball world. You know the playground world and the AAU world and the recruiting world.
Perception is reality and reality stunk at Rutgers for a long time. The last big time recruit was Phil the Thrill Sellers. Every kid in the City knew the Thrill and Rutgers T-shirts popped up in every playground from Bedford-Stuyvesant to Harlem and even up into the Bronx. Rutgers was a word on the lips of most kids. Doors opened to Rutgers coaches that never opened before. This is what Shagari Alleyne means to Rutgers and Gary Waters.
There are a lot of opinions as to how good Shagari is and how good he can be. Some recruiting services have him listed as a top 25 player while others have him listed as a 125 player. Mike Quick of MSG said that if Alleyne improves as much this year as he did during his junior year then he will make a lot of people in Piscataway happy.
His Coach at Rice High School in Harlem, Mo Hicks, said " he has grown athletically and mentally since his freshman year. This year he is going to play a major role. ...He's the leader on this team. We're going to depend on him a lot."
Of course, Shagari isn't the only thing that Gary Waters has brought to Rutgers. He brought coaching ability which he displayed in abundance last year. He brought courage in playing everyone on his bench, even when it would have been easy to play an "iron man five." He brought a feeling of family to the basketball team and a respect for the man himself and the things he has done here and elsewhere.
The question to ask now is not "what has Waters brought?" but rather "what hasn't he brought?"
If you put the question that way it is difficult to answer. There doesn't seem to be anything that you would want from a coach that Gary Waters hasn't delivered.
All that and a lot more.
So with basketball season coming around, once more 'hope springs eternal". "Midnight madness", Preseason NIT, the Big East schedule, the tourney at the Garden and maybe more.
Rutgers fans once again think that they finally have their coach.
Are Rutgers fans being fooled again or did this time they get the "real McCoy".
Predicting the future is a dangerous business. It has made a fool out of many a man.
But the feeling here is that Gary Waters is worth a look and worth a listen.
Maybe, just maybe, the time for Rutgers fans has finally come.